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Construction of the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, better known as the “Nickel Plate Road,” began in 1881 with a line between St. Louis, MO and Ft. Wayne, IN. The Nickel Plate expanded throughout the midwest and along the Great Lakes connecting large cities like Chicago, IL to Buffalo, NY.
In 1949, the NKP became a coal hauler when it leased the original Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway for 100 years. The W&LE lines gave the NKP access to the coal fields and steel country of southeastern Ohio as well as additional outlets to the east including the B&O, PRR and most importantly the Pittsburgh & West Virginia (P&WV), its partner in the so-called “Alphabet Route” of railroads (which also included the Western Maryland) which cooperated to compete against giants like the Pennsy.
Eventually, the NKP found itselft in need of a merger partner when railroads like the NYC and PRR began talking mergers in the ’60s. On October 16th, 1964, the NKP merged into the Norfolk & Western along with fellow midwestern roads Wabash and Akron, Canton & Youngstown (ACY) and the P&WV. This merger meant even more coal would flow over the NKP as it became a midwestern outlet for the coal loaded in the N&W’s lucrative Pocahontas fields of West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.
The NKP’s coal operations were concentrated on the ex-W&LE lines southeast of the large yard at Brewster, OH. The line from Brewster to Pittsburgh Jct., OH carried lots of overhead traffic because of the connection with the P&LE, but the line east of Pittsburgh Jct. had the character of a branch. The heart of mine run operations was Adena, OH. From Adena, lines branched out in all four directions.
Pittsburgh Jct. to Warrenton. The line from Pittsburgh Jct. to Warrenton, OH was lined with coal tipples. Near Warrenton, the NKP interchanged with the NYC’s branch at Dillonvale/Pine Valley, OH. At Warrenton, the line joined with the W&LE’s Steubenville Branch which ran north to the steel mills at Steubenville, and the line also joined the Wheeling Bridge & Terminal Railroad (operated jointly by the W&LE/NKP and PRR) to the south which crossed the Ohio River and gave the NKP access to Wheeling, WV.
Adena Branch. The Adena Branch left Adena via a wye and ventured through coal country to a connection with the B&O at Neffs, OH. This line served several coal loaders.
Adena, Cadiz & New Athens Railway. The AC&NA branched from the Adena Branch just west of Adena and continued through several miles of strip mines and loaders to reach the huge Georgetown Preparation Plant at Cadiz, OH. The prep plant was served jointly by the W&LE and PRR, an arrangement lasting into the N&W/PC era and the NS/Conrail era. Loads went both ways on the branch with raw coal going to the prep plant and clean coal heading back to Adena where most of it went back north (west) to Brewster.
Coshocton to Zanesville. The W&LE’s secondary line from Brewster to Zanesville, OH connected with the B&O and PRR’s coal lines at Zanesville. While most of the coal in the area was hauled by the other roads, 1964 track charts still list a handful of loaders on the W&LE between Coshocton and Zanesville.
- Nickel Plate Historical and Technical Society (http://nkphts.org)
- The Alphabet Route (http://alphabetroute.com)
- Richard Dodson